Companies often use color in product packaging to distinguish and elevate their brands. Amid the kaleidoscope to choose from, the world of packaging has progressively embraced the allure of black and darker colors. Black has become a statement for brand packaging because it is often associated with elegance, luxury and high quality; can represent modernity and timelessness; provides contrast on store shelves to attract attention; and can help block out light and protect products.  

Beyond the allure of black in packaging, particularly plastic packaging, it can create difficulties when recycling. Modern plastic recycling operations utilize near infrared (NIR) technology in their processing equipment to sort materials efficiently. Under such conditions, plastics colored with traditional carbon black pigment are largely undetectable, causing plastics that could and should be recycled to be unnecessarily discarded, contributing to landfill waste. This issue also affects other dark colors that utilize carbon black at low dosages, like dark blues, greens, browns and reds. 

The need for enhanced plastic recycling

With environmental consciousness at the forefront of global discourse, the need for sustainable solutions to address plastic pollution is undeniable. Plastics alone contribute significantly to environmental degradation, with an estimated 14 million metric tons entering oceans annually.  

As consumers and brands commit to more sustainable practices, packaging producers are increasingly considering a variety of solutions to support the recyclability of dark plastics including: 

  • Converting packaging material to a nonplastic, typically contributing to an increase in cost.  
  • Altering color of packaging, which can negatively impact brand identity. 
  • Incorporating an innovative technology, like near-infrared (NIR) reflecting pigments, to encourage recyclability and enhance efficiency. 

NIR reflecting pigments pave the way for a more circular plastic economy

NIR pigments are engineered to reflect near-infrared light, making it easier for automated sorting systems to distinguish between various types of plastics during recycling. 

Key advantages of NIR pigments include: 

  • Improved sorting accuracy: Enhances the accuracy of sorting processes in recycling facilities. Automated sorting systems equipped with NIR technology can efficiently identify and separate plastics based on their reflective properties. 
  • Increased recycling rates: Improved accuracy in plastic sorting can help increase recycling rates by reducing contamination. 
  • Cost-effective recycling: NIR reflecting pigments aid automation in sorting processes so recycling facilities can streamline their operations and optimize resources. 
  • Environmental impact: More effective and accurate recycling through the use of NIR reflecting pigments has the potential to be a reliable contributor to overall plastic pollution reduction. 

Vibrantz helps improve the recycling of dark plastics 

We are the leading global supplier of inorganic pigments and provide NIR-detectable black pigments for dark plastic recycling that meet food contact regulations. 

Our flagship NIR reflecting product Nubifer® NB-803K FCP (pigment black 33) is a moderate NIR reflecting black with low magnetism, improving color strength and sort-ability. Nubifer NB-803K FCP is also FDA and EU 10/2011 compliant, allowing the product to be used on plastics in contact with food. 

We also offer a Nubifer 24-3950 FCP (pigment brown 29), which is an NIR reflecting FDA-approved pigment that enhances shade intensity without losing opacity. Contact us to learn more about our expanded portfolio of pigments.  

Dani Lladó

Global Product Manager, Plastics

Dani Lladó

Global Product Manager, Plastics

Lladó has more than 20 years of technical and commercial experience in the pigments industry. He joined Nubiola (later acquired by Ferro) in 2004 where he held various technical and marketing roles related to plastics. Lladó  resides in Barcelona and has a chemistry degree from the Universidad de Barcelona and a master’s degree in marketing from EADA Business School.